Police Reform Project

Empire Justice Center’s Police Reform Project promotes equity, antiracism, and social justice within established criminal justice systems such as law enforcement departments and institutions of pre-trial incarceration. To achieve these goals, Empire Justice Center partners with organizations, community groups, and individuals to understand the needs of communities; educates the public about their legal rights and systemic inequities; develops policy positions; engages in strategic communication with organizational leaders; lobbies to achieve greater fairness and equity in legislation; and engages in targeted litigation.


Stop the Stops

A pretext stop is when a police officer stops a motorist, cyclist, or even a pedestrian, for a minor offense – like not having a bell on a bicycle or having something hanging from a car’s rear view mirror – when the real reason for the stop is something else. The other reason may be a suspicion without enough of a legal basis that the person stopped has done something wrong, or another reason that would be illegal, like racial profiling. The types of offenses upon which these low-level Vehicle and Traffic Law violations are based do not involve enhancing safety. These stops are often conducted in communities of color and are often directed against young Black men. Multiple studies reflect the racial disparities in who is subjected to pretext stops. For example, from some studies and data cited in our new report, linked below.

Stop the Stops – The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color

  • “Our results indicate that police stops and search decisions suffer from persistent racial bias and point to the value of policy interventions to mitigate these disparities.” (A. Emma Pierson et al., A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops Across the United States, 4 NATURE & HUM. BEHAV. 736, 736 [2020]).
  • From a California analysis in 2023: “In 2021, people who were perceived as Black were searched at 2.2 times the rate of people perceived as White. Overall, officers searched 6,622 more people perceived as Black than those perceived as White. In addition, those perceived to be Black adolescents between 15 to 17 years old were searched at nearly six times the rate of those perceived as White youth.” (Press Release, 2021, Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board.)
  • From a North Carolina study analyzing data through 2016: Blacks were 63 percent more likely to be stopped even though, as a whole, they drive 16 percent less. Taking into account less time on the road, blacks were about 95 percent more likely to be stopped. Blacks were 115 percent more likely than whites to be searched in a traffic stop (5.05 percent for blacks, 2.35 percent for whites). Contraband was more likely to be found in searches of white drivers. (FRANK BAUMGARTNER, DEREK A. EPP, & KELSEY SHOUB, SUSPECT CITIZENS: WHAT 20 MILLION TRAFFIC STOPS TELL US ABOUT POLICING AND RACE 31 [2018]

We at Empire Justice believe that in order to reduce racial disparities in policing, New York must #StopTheStops. Empire Justice Center is working to end these racially disparate police practices in several ways.


Learn More

Our first step to #StopTheStops has been to create a preliminary report explaining why pretext stops are so harmful to individuals and communities.

Preliminary Report

The Preliminary Report:

  • Explains the law of pretext stops;
  • Reviews the studies that establish there are racial disparities in who gets stopped;
  • Addresses the harms to communities and individuals within the communities in which these stops are conducted;
  • Reviews whether there are benefits to a community when police engage in pretext stops;
  • Discusses pretext stops in the Greater Rochester, NY area; and
  • Reviews policies and laws implemented in other states, cities and communities to address the racial disparities in pretext stops.
  • The goals of the preliminary report are to educate the public, develop support for legal and policy changes we seek, and obtain your input to guide us in our preparation of a second report to be issued later this year.

We recognize that even though you may have an interest in the subject, you may not have the time to read the full report. Please also see an overview of the report in English and in Spanish.


Get Involved

Our comprehensive preliminary report is only the first step in our effort to address racial disparities in low level stops. In addition to our issuance of this report, we will be creating proposals to reduce or eliminate these racially disparate stops in New York. We want to hear from you. We want to hear your stories, gain the support of those who seek to promote antiracism in policing as we continue to examine and report on pretext stops, and develop recommendations for ending these practices in New York.

Join our Mailing List – Sign up to receive email updates
Tell Your Story & Be Heard- If you have been subjected to a pretext stop, share your story for possible inclusion in our final report.
News & Updates

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Have the police stopped you in the City of Rochester? Empire Justice is part of a coalition working together to improve police and community relations through exploring input on best practices for stops. Click on the flyer below to participate in a survey. Download the flyer